When it comes to the arts: you can, and we are all a circle, connected. This is the reasoning behind the name ArtsCan Circle, an organization founded by professional harmonica player Mike Stevens.
ArtsCan Circle works in remote Northern Regions including Pikangikum, Fort Hope, Mishkeegogamang and White Dog, Ontario. ArtsCan Circle sends groups of 3 to 4 artists twice a year to run arts workshops with youth. The hope is that this initial workshop will inspire youth to continue learning art and use it as a creative outlet to tell their stories from their unique perspectives.
ArtsCan Circle has been returning to the same communities for 10 years. They are committed to building trust and relationships within each of these communities. This is shown through their continued work in the communities; they are there because they want to be and not because they’re being paid to, the community members are valued, and participation is not a one-off thing.
Recruitment of artists is ongoing but applying does not guarantee that the artist will be sent out to the community. The ideal artist possesses a balance of artistic talent, teaching and self-coordination skills. On top of that, they have to be resilient enough to deal with some of the challenges of daily life that is present in some of these communities. Such responsibility can be equal parts overwhelming and eye-opening for the artists.
Since space is so limited, only the bare minimum of workshop personnel goes out to the communities. That is, just the artists. ArtsCan staff coordinates all aspects of the workshops on the ground, so that the artists know who they will see and what they will do, but it is up to the artists alone to make it happen once in the community through liaising with schoolteachers and the community. The workshops change each time, but aim to introduce students to an art form over four days, culminating in a one-day presentation.
ArtsCan’s central office is in Newmarket because a lot of its support comes from within Ontario, but staff, board and volunteers are scattered throughout Canada. The organization is mostly run by volunteers. They are composed of professional artists of various disciplines, including musicians.
With the cost of flying just four artists up north running at close to $5000, ArtsCan Circle is grateful for any and all support. They are a registered charity that runs on funds from individual donations, government grants, private foundations and sponsors. They stay visible mainly through word of mouth among the artists who volunteer (whether in-office or virtually), sit on the board or travel to the communities as workshop leaders.
Non-artist volunteers are needed as much as, if not more than, artist volunteers for tasks such as social media, outreach/marketing, administration, donor appreciation, accounting, driving (instruments to/from drop-off locations and storage), and probably more tasks that only become apparent when a member of the public steps forward with his/her set of unique skills.
ArtsCan has just celebrated its tenth year and has seen a visible improvement in the five communities that it works in. Compared to when they began, schools are newer, there are more kids in class, safety issues have lessened and there continues to be amazing moments when keen students gravitate toward the music lessons and learn how to handle a guitar, ukulele or harmonica.
ArtsCan Circle has made and kept to its conscious decision to not heroically solve the problems of a community, but to simply provide a service where it is lacking, in the hope that it gives a creative outlet to people who need it.
For more information about the genesis of this organization in Mike Stevens’ own words, please visit: here.